Young the Giant's debut album is full of solid musicianship and strong singing. One hopes that as they get a bit more seasoned they'll find a sound of their own.
These guys started off as a band named the Jakes. Somewhere in the last couple of years, though, they changed their name to Young the Giant. I'm not sure what it says about the band that they would go from an utterly generic name to one that's downright stupid, it just seemed like an odd choice. Maybe there's a story behind it. Anyway, Roadrunner Records signed the band and is releasing their self-titled debut. This is kind of an unusual band for Roadrunner, who are known for their roster full of hard rock and metal artists. Maybe they decided they needed to try to market an indie rock-type band for a change. What does being a young band on a major label get you these days? Apparently a slickly designed website, a producer with solid credentials (Joe Chicarelli has produced albums for My Morning Jacket, Counting Crows, Minus the Bear, and the Shins), and a pre-release appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
As for the music itself, Young the Giant is pretty much what passes for a middle-of-the-road rock band in 2011. Their songs encompass a decent range of material, from U2-style bombast to thumping rockers to outright pop songs to the requisite slow-moving, spacey love song. The band proves to be pretty adept at all of this. The 12 songs on Young the Giant are well-written, well-arranged, and well-performed. It's all good material and decently catchy, but there isn't much that sets Young the Giant apart. This is, of course, the problem an act faces when they're a middle-of-the-road rock band. They don't have any of the leering drawbacks of the cock-rock revival led by Nickelback and Hinder, but they don't have any of the idiosyncrasies or hooks that draw effusive praise from music critics (yours truly included). The press materials tout the multi-ethnic backgrounds of the band members, but there's nothing in the band's music that reveals those backgrounds.
First single "My Body" is one of the better tracks on the album, one of the aforementioned thumping rockers. Rumbling bass and a rolling drumbeat reminiscent of Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People" soon give way to Sameer Gadhia's impassioned vocals and the refrain "My body tells me no-o-o / But I won't quit / 'Cause I want more!" The song remains buoyant through the layers of guitars that pile up because the band fully commits to keeping the rhythm section bouncing throughout the song. The album's best moment of anthemic rock comes courtesy of the Coldplay-aping "Cough Syrup". The song starts with a simple guitar line and a cello accompaniment before the drums kick in and Gadhia enters with upper-register vocals. After 50 seconds, the band hits the big, big chorus complete with chiming guitar chords that quickly switch to repeated 16th notes. The song then backs off enough for another verse and hits the chorus again. The guitar solo is more of those irresistible 16th notes before the band swings back through the chorus one more time, but not before a ten-second moment where the drums drop out entirely. It's good, but it seems to follow the script on "how to do anthemic rock" exactly.
And that's what ultimately keeps Young the Giant from making a bigger splash creatively. The band members, all in their early 20s, know how to replicate the strong moments in rock history. But they have yet to really figure out their own stylistic stamp. Closer "Guns Out" has a bit of an interesting drumbeat, but that bit of creativity doesn't extend to the rest of the song. The skittering 6/8 time signature of "I Got" is cool, but the guitar tones on the track seem ripped straight from Vampire Weekend, probably the one indie-rock band you don't want to sound like when doing a light, catchy pop song in 6/8, because then you just sound like you're doing a Vampire Weekend impression. What Young the Giant does have going for them is solid musicianship. These guys can definitely play their instruments and Gadhia is a strong singer, so one hopes that as they get a bit more seasoned they'll find a sound of their own.